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Bernstein Project Goals

My overall goal was to arrange a course in which students would acquire an understanding of the field sufficient to enable them to use the ideas in the course in the context of new situations and problems that were not explicitly taught. A sense of the students being able to generalize their skills across moderately complex contexts was my target for what constituted understanding of the field, and my secondary goal was to bring as large a percentage of students as possible to that level of understanding. Implicit in this goal was an expectation that long term retention of these skills would be enhanced by the contextual nature of the understanding. I was able to teach the course both semesters during the year, and I completed two fundamental changes in my teaching. During the first semester, I revised the measures of student understanding of the material (in the 60% of the course based on exams) to make sure that learners demonstrated a generalizable set of intellectual skills that they could apply to new specific contexts. In the second semester I tried to support that deeper understanding by spending more time during class on discussion of the use of ideas across contexts. To free up that class time I had to find a substitute for in-class discussions of the course readings that had successfully kept most of the class up to date on readings in previous offerings. I used a web-based system for daily student consideration of the readings; each student visited the website before each class, answering a number of automatically graded questions that demonstrated they had read and considered the assignments for class. The system allowed me to log in and find out how well prepared the class would be before I met with them, and it gave them a specific reason to be prepared each class day.


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